Category Archives: Poetry

Late have I loved thee ….

Praying for different results

papalprayerThis photo has featured many times since the day the two popes met and spent a bit of time in prayer.  Quite humorously, it was used in recent days to show the two men praying for different results in the World Cup.  We now know which way that one fell!

Yesterday I was reading some Patrick Kavanagh poetry (he’s still in my head and I intend learning a bit more about him in some way or other) and I came across a lovely poem called “FR MATT”.  It’s long and involved and seems to touch on the life of the priest in the parish. In fairness, he’s a good man who seems to fit in well – as Kavanagh says, “like a round stone in a field”.  I had the feeling Kavanagh liked him.

There’s a part of the poem about people waiting in church to go to confessions and the prayers being said.  There’s a lovely piece about two people praying within kneeling board distance of each other but their prayers are for a different outcome …

In the dim
Corners in the side seats faces gather,
Lit up now and then by a guttering candle
And the ghost of day at the window.
A secret lover is saying
Three Hail Marys that she who knows
The ways of women will bring
Cathleen O’Hara (he names her) home to him.
Ironic fate! Cathleen herself is saying
Three Hail Marys to her who knows
The ways of men to bring
Somebody else home to her –
‘O may he love me.’
What is the Virgin Mary now to do?

                                                  (From “Fr Matt” by Patrick Kavanagh)

It begs the question whose prayers should be answered.  Pope Francis said that he wasn’t going to pray for any team in the World Cup but rather that the sport would be enjoyed, bring people together and leave it at that.  I heard of a Priest President of a diocesan college who used train the football team and he’d tell the team clearly that he wasn’t going to pray for victory as the other team would be doing the same and might be better “pray-ers”!!  Same idea.

So what happened Cathleen O’Hara (he named her) and the man in the next seat.  Was prayer answered?

They say it’s always answered but maybe we don’t recognise the answer or understand it.

Any thoughts on this …. maybe we could get a discussion going!!

 

Inniskeen Road – July Afternoon!

kavanaghOn July 10th I spent a bit of time in Inniskeen, Co. Monaghan – the birth place and resting place of Patrick Kavanagh.  It’s something I had wanted to do for a long time, not least since meeting a nephew of Patrick’s at a Priests’ Retreat recently.

The journey was shared and shortened in the company of Anne  to whom I’d mentioned my plans to go there someday.  She certainly encouraged that “some day” be moved from a vague out in the future place to a more realistic “now” and I’m glad that happened. Sometimes my good intentions get lost in their intentional state:)  She too had an interest in Kavanagh’s place, his words and works and the time was right ….

The Patrick Kavanagh Centre in Inniskeen is the old Parish Churchphoto 1 where Patrick attended Mass and, I have no doubt, observed life, and came to an awareness of God, found as he tells us, in the “bits and pieces” of life. Elmar, the guide, told us he used sit on the gallery where he had a better view of … the women!  I’d like to think he noticed the Stained Glass Windows too.  Still there and still spectacular they must have taken his thoughts beyond his lofty perch.

photo 2

One of the first things I saw was a poem (his first published I think) in which he speaks words to an old and falling down “Wooden Gate”.  I thought that was class.  How many people passed that gate and never gave it a second look?  How many times did its owner curse and blind it as he struggled to close it for another time – maybe the last time. Kavanagh saw it as a companion, sharing his experience of life and a sort of kindred spirit:

Battered by time and weather; scarcely fit
For firewood; there’s not a single bit
Of paint to hide those wrinkles, and such scringes
Break hoarsely on the silence–rusty hinges:
A barbed wire clasp around one withered arm
Replaces the old latch, with evil charm.
That poplar tree you hang upon is rotten,
And all its early lovliness forgotten.
This gap ere long must find another sentry
If the cows are not to roam the open country.
They’ll laugh at you, Old Woden Gate, they’ll push
Your limbs asunder, soon, into the slush.
Then i will lean upon your top no more
To muse, and dream of pebbles on a shore,
Or watch the fairy-columned turf-smoke rise
From white-washed cottage chimneys heaven-wise.
Here have i kept fair tryst, and kept it true,
When we were lovers all, and i was new;
And many time I’ve seen the laughing-eyed
Schoolchildren, on your trusty back astride.
But Time’s long silver hand has touched our brows,
And i’m the scorned of women–you of cows.
How can i love the iron gates which guard
The fields of wealthy farmers? They are hard,
Unlovely things, a-swingingg on concrete piers–
Their finger tips are pointed like old spears.
But you and i are kindred, Ruined Gate,
for both of us have met the self-same fate.

I knew then how little I knew!!  The space is small but packed withpoetsbirth memories of a great man who was, it seems, very much misunderstood among his own with whom he longed to be among. There’s a lovely piece saying that he was born as poet in Dublin in the fifties but that, in truth, this had happened thirty years earlier in his own place but  he was too “thick” (his own word) to recognise the birth.  It’s a lovely way of saying that what he had become was the result of from where he had come.

His life was not simple and, chances are he didn’t make it very simple for himself either.  Yet, through it – maybe because of it – he touched into very deep parts of himself, life, faith and love.  There’s an interesting mention of his relationship with the faith.  He felt much of Catholicism had been lost through “devotions” and “voteens” and that was, in his view, regrettable.  He had faith in God and felt that before the onset of unbridled devotion that Catholicism tapped more into the roots of Ireland and respecting the traditions of those roots, brought our people to a better place.  I had a real sense of him loving God and wanting to make God known afresh in the lives of his own generation.  A God who remained with him and for him, perhaps, when much else was in confusion.

photo 2There’s a lovely scaled model of his poem about Christmas Childhood.  The model touches on the core elements of the poem – his father playing the accordion (malodeon) at the side of the house, the bare apple tree and, my favourite mention – the three trees on the hill that overshadowed their home.  He saw these as the Three Wise Men coming to his Bethlehem.  As the guide said, people felt he could bring Bethlehem to Inniskeen.  People were right!

and, of course, Luke Kelly’s version

grandcanalkavanagh

There were words about Raglan Road, Hilda, his marriage to Katherine Barry Maloney – his footballing days as a not too successful goalie, his printing press along with his brother.  There was a very interesting link with Sligo and his grandfather “Kevany” from Easkey.  We heard too of his friendship with Brendan Behan and sadly  of his fight with cancer and times of recovery spent by the Canal Bank Walk.  Finally his death which came within days of the opening of his play “Tarry Flynn” in Cavan – a homecoming and recognition for him, a highlight leading to I believe “Eternal Light” – may he rest in Peace.  Amen.

photo 3Lastly time was spent at his graveside – a very simple but meaning-filled piece of God’s earth.  No marble surround or high cross but a low wooden cross and a soil covered grave with stepping stones – flagstones – from the Stony Grey Soil of Monaghan.

O stony grey soil of Monaghan
The laugh from my love you thieved;
You took the gay child of my passion
And gave me your clod-conceived.

You clogged the feet of my boyhood
And I believed that my stumble
Had the poise and stride of Apollo
And his voice my thick tongued mumble.

You told me the plough was immortal!
O green-life conquering plough!
The mandril stained, your coulter blunted
In the smooth lea-field of my brow.

You sang on steaming dunghills
A song of cowards’ brood,
You perfumed my clothes with weasel itch,
You fed me on swinish food

You flung a ditch on my vision
Of beauty, love and truth.
O stony grey soil of Monaghan
You burgled my bank of youth!

Lost the long hours of pleasure
All the women that love young men.
O can I stilll stroke the monster’s back
Or write with unpoisoned pen.

His name in these lonely verses
Or mention the dark fields where
The first gay flight of my lyric
Got caught in a peasant’s prayer.

Mullahinsa, Drummeril, Black Shanco-
Wherever I turn I see
In the stony grey soil of Monaghan
Dead loves that were born for me. 

The inscriptions on the cross and centre flagstone are apt:

The Cross’ inscription reads: “And pray for him who walked about on the hill loving life’s miracles”.

photo 4

The flagstone, draws attention to the stepping stones as it tells us: “These are stepping stones across a stream. Part of my life was there. The happiest part”.

________________________________

image-a33bbb2a7c723d8499e674ac3663d91bcd48850677a8f7469fc4fb6aa555f63f-VIt was a good day – hours well spent and glad it happened! Do I know much more about Kavangh?  Chances are I realise how little I know but the experience made real the place, the man and his memory.  I have often referred to him during the years – sometimes at a Wedding Mass, sometimes at Priests’ Retreats because I believe he speaks to a place that is very real for most of us.  I can’t say I like or enjoy every word of his I’ve ever heard.  Neither can I say, I’ve heard every word but somewhere, in the mix of what I’ve heard, know or think I know, there’s a good man who used words well.  One of my favourite poems of his is one, I’m told, he wrote for a neighbour who was to be ordained a priest.  I remember mentioning this one time to a group of priests and some of them seemed to know the man for whom the words were written.  It’s called “To the man after the harrow” and I’ll end with it ….

Now leave the check-reins slack,
The seed is flying far today –
The seed like stars against the black
Eternity of April clay.

This seed is potent as the seed
Of knowledge in the Hebrew Book,
So drive your horses in the creed
Of God the Father as a stook.

Forget the men on Brady’s Hill.
Forget what Brady’s boy may say.
For destiny will not fulfil
Unless you let the harrow play.

Forget the worm’s opinion too
Of hooves and pointed harrow-pins,
For you are driving your horses through
The mist where Genesis begins. 

VIRAL? Not quite ……

I received a number of texts, calls and (yes) sarcastic comments during the week!!  These were in response to Fr Ray Kelly’s fine singing voice at an Oldcastle Wedding.  Powerful stuff!  As I write nearly fifteen million views of the original YouTube Video have been clocked up – not to mention other views from other sources.

You see I’ve often sang at weddings but sadly nobody posted!  You just wonder what might have happened??? So, if you’ve a good clip of me singing at your wedding, give it a go!!

That’s what led to the comments.  Unlike Fr Ray, my voice is raw and my range limited.  Like him however, I enjoy the “song” in all of us and have been glad to use some through the years – often as part of the few words I try to share.  I think there’s something very powerful in a song and that it has the potential to bring people back to a moment when they hear it, maybe whilst driving in the car, working in the house or doing the bit of shopping.  I like to think the song, admittedly better and more professionally sung, might take them back to that Sacred Moment when we stood near each other, in the shadow – the glow – of The Altar.

As for me, I’ll sing the few notes I have – once told that I have “all the right notes but not in the right order”!!

A little example!!  Fr Ray has nothing to fear:)

Digging by Seamus Heaney

Between my finger and my thumb  
The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.
 
Under my window, a clean rasping sound  
When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:  
My father, digging. I look down
 
Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds  
Bends low, comes up twenty years away  
Stooping in rhythm through potato drills  
Where he was digging.
 
The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft  
Against the inside knee was levered firmly.
He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep
To scatter new potatoes that we picked,
Loving their cool hardness in our hands.
 
By God, the old man could handle a spade.  
Just like his old man.
 
My grandfather cut more turf in a day
Than any other man on Toner’s bog.
Once I carried him milk in a bottle
Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up
To drink it, then fell to right away
Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
Over his shoulder, going down and down
For the good turf. Digging.
 
The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.
 
Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.
 

Seamus Heaney, “Digging” from Death of a Naturalist. Copyright 1966 by Seamus Heaney. Reprinted with the permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, LLC.

Source: Death of a Naturalist (1966)

HOMILY OF MONSIGNOR BRENDAN DEVLIN

Homily of Monsignor Brendan Devlin at Funeral Mass for Seamus Heaney

 

Just as I hold that it is not for a Christian minister to embark on eulogy or to praise the talents and achievements of those who have  gone from us, neither is it for me to audit the virtues and good works of  Seamus Heaney, (after all, as Wisdom tells us of great men, “ their good works go before them”.) And yet, when we read that series of sharp witted paradoxes that we call the Eight Beatitudes and which are the core of the Sermon on the Mount, what you might call the identikit portrait of the ideal Christian, it cannot but strike us how many of them apply readily to our memories of Seamus Heaney.

“How blest are those of gentle spirit; those who hunger and thirst to see right prevail; those who show mercy to others; those who want to see peace established.”

How much of that is a description of the man we knew, of the brilliant literary critic, of the articulater of the years of pain in the North.

But understand me well, this not my effort to recuperate him, as the French say, to harness him in the ranks of the soldiers of Christ. How unsufferably patronising that would be! I think rather of something more deep-seated than such easy conformism. I remember something he wrote a lifetime ago when he recalled the early stirrings of a poetic imagination as he recited as an altar boy the words of the Litany: “Mystical Rose, Tower of David, Tower of Ivory, House of Gold, Ark of the Covenant, Morning Star.” I too recall such stirrings at devotions in the twilight of a May evening. Like many of our generation we had both inherited, he on the plains of South Derry, I in the hills of Tyrone, the imagination and with it the memory of a community. What was important was not so much the prayers we did or did not say as the prayers that had been said before us for generations, generations whose hard won loyalties were so authentically embodied in the man and so vibrantly expressed in his work.

Therefore as we commend Seamus Heaney to the mercy of the Lord, which is the primary purpose of a Catholic funeral Mass, we do so in the faith and hope of an age-old community, who lived their lives and died their death in the Lord Jesus and who, still living in that same Lord, await us their descendants and heirs in that eternal life which we hold to be sealed in us by our common baptism.

In that sense, all of us have long since been given to God by our forefathers in the Faith and by the hope which nourished them and which they looked to see fulfilled in us. The Gospel of Saint John quotes Jesus as saying: “Everyone the Father gives me will come to me, and anyone who comes to me I will not cast out,” and as repeating: “Father, of those you have given me I have not lost anyone.”

In our natural consternation in the presence of death and the termination of our earthly supports, we can only turn our eyes on life in that spirit of Christian optimism which, it seems to me, breathes in much of the work of Seamus Heaney and which I believe to be his inheritance from our troubled past.

It was in similarly troubling circumstances, as the shadows of evening descended on that Upper Room of the Last Supper that Christ’s disciples heard him speak the words that we have just read in the Gospel. Amid the foreboding of those last days in the life of Jesus with their crowding events, commands and prophecies, they were urged by their Lord to overcome their sorrow through a renewal of their faith and trust in God.

“Let not your hearts be troubled,” He said. “I go to prepare a place for you and if I do so, I will come back to bring you with me, so that where I am, you also may be. And as for the way there, I am the Way and the Truth and the Life. “

As we part from Seamus Heaney for a while and send him from us on that way, what our forefathers called “slí na firinne”, we accompany him in faith and hope and with the viaticum of our prayers.

Pat McNamara – An Evangelist ….

Pat McNamara R.I.P.
Pat McNamara R.I.P.

I asked someone to show me this grave.  It’s in the cemetery adjacent to Urlaur Abbey and is the grave of Pat McNamara who was once a teacher in nearby Tavrane National School.  I haven’t studied the headstone in detail but the name McNamara is there in large lettering.  I’m not sure there is any more detail on it. I must have a closer look.

Pat McNamara is someone I’ve spoken about many times over the years.  I regard him as an “evangelist” – the teller and recorder of a sacred story.  Approached by a local man, he was asked to write letters to an emigrant son.  The letter writing spanned some thirty years and I’m not sure if Pat wrote all the letters but certainly he was there for their “genesis”.  “Your good friend, the school master, Pat McNamara is so good as to write these words down” …….

We depend so much on the Pat McNamara(s) of life to record important detail and to help keep people in touch.  To them and for them we must remain grateful.

I know this song is elsewhere on the blog but maybe you might like to listen to it again and, while doing so, say a prayer with us at the (virtual) graveside of Pat McNamara and recall, alongside him, a loving father and an emigrant son and the ongoing call to family life, togetherness and contact ……

KILKELLY IRELAND

Ordination

Next Sunday, Paul Kivlehan will be ordained a priest of Achonry Diocese.  It will be the first such ordination in the diocese in ten years and is a source of joy and blessing for us all.  We wish Paul every happiness and blessing at this time and for his future ministry.

In days when ordinations were more plentiful, there was great rejoicing in parishes when one of their own became a priest.  At one stage, ordinations took place in the seminary and the newly ordained came home the next day to celebrate his First Mass.  There’s a lovely poem by John D Sheridan that captures such a homecoming and, in honour of Paul and his classmates to be ordained this summer, I thought it might be good to include it here.  As I say, it’s from another age but hopefully some of the sentiment remains:

THE PRIESTIN’ OF FATHER JOHN

They’ll be priestin’ him the morra –
Troth it’s a quare world too!
For I min’ the rascal that he was,
And the things he used to do.
Many’s a time I chased him
When the strawberries were ripe
Though I own I never caught him –
He was faster nor a snipe.
He hit me wi’ a snowball once,
And that same very hand
Will be blessin’ me the morra –
Troth it’s hard to understand.
 
Long Richard from Kircrubbin,
Who a sort of far-out frien’,
Is struttin’ round this fortnight back,
Just like a hatchin’ hen.
McAllister from Cargey,
Who’s no more to him nor me,
You’d think to hear the chat of him
He reared him on his knee.
Tom the Tailor’s nearly bet
From hurryin’ on new suits,
And there’s powerful heavy buyin’
On caps and yella boots.
The square is thick with buntin’ –
Man dear there’ll be a sight
When the late bus from Downpatrrick
Gets in the morra night.
 
Oul’ Canon Dan, God bless him,
Will be fussin’ fit to burst,
And the women batin’ other
To get the blessin’ first.
But, Canon or no Canon
And I’d say this till his face,
For all his bit o’ purple
He’ll take the second place.
Sure even if the Bishop came
Wi’ yon big mitre on
He wouldn’t get the welcome
That we’ll give to Father John. 
 
The pains are at me constant now
I seldom cross the door –
But I’m crossin’ it the morra
If I never cross it more.
You can quit your scoldin’ , Julia
An’ sayin’ I’m not wise –
Sure the sight of him will ease me heart
An’ gladden me oul’ eyes
It won’t be easy bendin’,
An’ the oul’ knees will hurt
But I’ll get down there fornenst him
In all the mud and dirt. 
 
And if I get the chance at all
I’ll whisper in his ear
(Och I’ll do it nice and quiet
so that no one else will hear)  :
“If anything should happen me
before you go away,
it’s no one but yourself I want
to shrive me on the clay.
Th’ oul’ Canon mightn’t like it
For he’s still hale and strong,
And I’m sure if he anointed me
He wouldn’t do it wrong.
But I’d feel more contented
If the hand to bless me when I go
Was the hand that threw the snowball
Twenty years ago.”

(From “Joe’s No Saint” by John D. Sheridan)

Flesh and Blood (Johnny Cash Song!)

I think you know I like Johnny Cash. I came across this version of one of his songs last night. It features three fine singers and sounds pretty good – I think! Enjoy.

and the lyrics ….

“Flesh And Blood”

Beside a Singin’ Mountain Stream
Where the Willow grew

Where the Silver Leaf of Maple
Sparkled in the Mornin’ Dew
I braided Twigs of Willows
Made a String of Buckeye Beads;
But Flesh And Blood need Flesh And Blood
And you’re the one I need
Flesh And Blood need Flesh And Blood
And you’re the one I need.

I leaned against a Bark of Birch
And I breathed the Honey Dew
I saw a North-bound Flock of Geese
Against a Sky of Baby Blue
Beside the Lily Pads
I carved a Whistle from a Reed;
Mother Nature’s quite a Lady
But you’re the one I need
Flesh And Blood need Flesh And Blood
And you’re the one I need.

A Cardinal sang just for me
And I thanked him for the Song
Then the Sun went slowly down the West
And I had to move along
These were some of the things

On which my Mind and Spirit feed;
But Flesh And Blood need Flesh And Blood
And you’re the one I need
Flesh And Blood need Flesh And Blood
And you’re the one I need.

[SPOKEN]

So when this Day was ended
I was still not satisfied
For I knew ev’rything I touched
Would wither and would die
And Love is all that will remain
And grow from all these Seed;

[SUNG]

Mother Nature’s quite a Lady
But you’re the one I need
Flesh And Blood need Flesh And Blood
And you’re the one I need.

Digging

I have a Funeral Mass in the parish this morning.  Last night the son of the man we will bury later today, told me his father loved cutting turf – the old-fashioned way – and used to talk about the season he cut “thirty-six trailer loads”.  I looked today to see if I could find a poem or a verse about turf-cutting and came across this piece, “Digging”, by Seamus Heaney.  I’m not sure I could do it justice but thought I’d share the clip here.  It’s well done and might bring back a few memories for some.  Enjoy!

TEXT OF POEM – “DIGGING” by Seamus Heaney

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.

Under my window, a clean rasping sound
When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:
My father, digging. I look down

Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds
Bends low, comes up twenty years away
Stooping in rhythm through potato drills
Where he was digging.

The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft
Against the inside knee was levered firmly.
He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep
To scatter new potatoes that we picked,
Loving their cool hardness in our hands.

By God, the old man could handle a spade.
Just like his old man.

My grandfather cut more turf in a day
Than any other man on Toner’s bog.
Once I carried him milk in a bottle
Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up
To drink it, then fell to right away
Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
Over his shoulder, going down and down
For the good turf. Digging.

The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.